Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cardross and A. J. Cronin Part 1

I haven’t managed to visit Cardross so far but, owing to my passion for the books of A. J. Cronin who was born there, I have wanted to go for some years. I hope I shall make it there this autumn at last (I’ll write Part 2 of this blog afterwards!)

Archibald Joseph Cronin was born on the 19th July 1896. He attended Dumbarton Academy and later studied medicine at Glasgow University. He became a Royal Navy surgeon and later entered general practice and worked in South Wales and then Harley Street in London. His work and experiences provided inspiration - most obviously for ‘The Citadel’, which was at the same time his most commercially successful and his most crusading work. It has been said that its exposure of inequalities in medical provision contributed to the introduction of the National Health Service.

Of course, Cronin is best known - if anyone has heard of him at all! - through the very popular1960s television series ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’, which was based on one of his books, although he wrote so many fine novels besides on widely different themes. It’s ridiculous that most are now out of print and I have obtained most of mine second hand through Ebay and the like, and I re-read them all every couple of years. His very first novel, “Hatter’s Castle”, which he wrote while on holiday in Inveraray for three months in 1931, is a masterpiece and was accepted at once by the only publishing house to which the manuscript had been submitted! The plot revolves around many characters and has many subplots, all of which relate to the life of the hatter, James Brodie, whose narcissism and cruelty gradually destroy his life. (The book was made into a successful film in 1941 starring Robert Newton, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason.)

The Wikipedia website here has a very informative article about Cronin and lists all his works - he was an extremely prolific writer!

I recently sent the letter below to the local council, a large tourist website, and a smaller one, based in the Cardross area (I’d better not give their full names, titles and details here without their permission!):

"Dear Sir,

I am visiting Scotland this October and Cardross in particular as I am a great fan of A J Cronin's many wonderful novels. I have collected almost all of them through the years and also the films of some of his best-loved books, such as The Spanish Gardener, with Dirk Bogarde. I have been looking forward to going to Cronin's birthplace for years!

I wonder if you could let me know where to find his house, Rosebank Cottage, and if it is open to the public. I would like to know if there are any statues, exhibitions or monuments of the great man to see in Cardross, or possibly in Helensburgh where he lived later on - or of any which may be in Glasgow where he studied medicine?

Looking forward to hearing from you, Yours sincerely" etc

The council wrote a friendly email to say they had sent my letter onto a smaller body of people who are concerned with Cardross (I will add to this blog as and when I hear from them). I also had this brief reply from the larger of the two tourist websites:

“We have no details of any attraction in Cardross pertaining to A J Cronin, neither are we able to advise is Rosebank House is open to the public, it is not something we have listed, so it is likely to be in private ownership.” which I replied,

“This is extremely disappointing and very surprising. However, thank you very much for taking the time to reply to my letter, Yours sincerely,” etc

I wonder why Cronin has been forgotten and does not appear to be honoured anywhere, not even in his own birthplace? Surely I can't be the only fan of his excellent books?!

Some of the books in my collection

Some further facts about Cronin can be found on a few websites. Here are a couple below:

A J Cronin died on January 6th, 1981 in Montreux, Switzerland and his grave can be seen here

(For more information about this great and completely underrated man, please see Tom's excellent comments underneath)

(Part 2 of my A.J. Cronin blog can be found here, and Part 3 here)